When I asked Alberto Tartari about the name of his new restaurant, he explained that in Italian, vicoletto means “alleyway” or “side street.” What a perfect name for this beautiful, grey-tiled restaurant tucked into the bottom floor of West 17th Street, complete with a cozy back courtyard.
Alberto is the owner of two other New York restaurants, Il Melograno and Il Baretto, but in spite of his busy schedule, he took the time to sit down with me at one of Al Vicoletto’s outdoor tables. “I went to culinary school in Italy,” he told me, “and then I traveled the world.” He worked in London, Paris, Switzerland, and even on The Love Boat before returning to Italy, where he opened his first restaurant. In the early 2000s, he moved to New York City to open Il Melograno, on 51st Street.
At first, I thought that Al Vicoletto was a traditional Italian restaurant, but Alberto told me that he wants to move away from the Italian custom of multiple courses. “People don’t really eat that way anymore, so I’m trying to serve food like tapas or starters.” Customers at Al Vicoletto are encouraged to order a few small plates, or Alberto’s special focaccia romana, baked pizza dough topped with tomato, basil, and homemade pesto.
Al Vicoletto, it seems, is an Italian response to the American way of life. “We only serve lean, simple food here,” Alberto said, adding, “Americans don’t have enough variety in their diets, and they eat too much corn syrup.” Though he puts a strong emphasis on high-quality food, he also values affordability - “not too cheap, and not too expensive.” And of course, anyone with a yearning for Italian products will be interested in purchasing the gourmet pasta, olive oil, espresso, hearts of palm, and many other imported goods for sale at Al Vicoletto.
Though the restaurant had only been open a few weeks when I visited during the summer of 2015, Al Vicoletto already had its share of neighborhood regulars. One satisfied customer even beckoned me over to his table to say, “The food here is excellent! You have to come back and try it.”
Pepi Di Giacomo and Luca Di Pietry, veterans of the hospitality industry and wine and espresso intenditori, have taken a slice of the Abruzzo province and established it across Manhattan in their cafes. 18th Street, however, is where their Italian cuisine is most pronounced. It is as much about local produce and a dynamic menu as it is about traditional dishes. Depending on the time of day, there is espresso, a selection of pastries, an extensive wine list and a full Italian menu. An added surprise in the warmer months is their gelato booth, stationed right outside the restaurant. Perfect for us on the first day the temperature reached 80 degrees.
The Azzollini family has been at the heart of Paul & Jimmy’s since Cosmo Azzollini waited tables at its 1950 incarnation on Irving Place. Back in 1968, when Cosmo purchased the restaurant, the Azzollini’s made it their own slice of southern Italy. Even today, Louis and his son, Greg, keep the focus on home: homemade cuisine, a home-style atmosphere, and the homey touches of Italian hospitality. Paul & Jimmy’s is truly a family-run, neighborhood business. Louise and Greg emphasized that “one of us is always here - we are the only ones with the keys. We open and close every night. ” Greg has worked in the restaurant since 2005, and - after culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education, working at Mario Batali’s Lupa Osteria in Manhattan, and furthering his culinary studies in Italy - is currently the head chef. Linda, Louis’s wife, is in charge of the accounting. Together, the whole Azzollini family works hard to ensure that everyone who walks through their doors feels like part of the family. They are proud that the majority of their customers are local, and are particularly pleased that they have “a lot of customers who have been coming forty, fifty, sixty years, and also a lot that come three, four, five times a week. ” As for Paul & Jimmy’s younger clientele, they are often surprised when Louise is able to tell them what their parents or grandparents used to eat. Their secret is that their “food is phenomenal… we have great waitstaff, we have reasonable prices, a cozy atmosphere, and are extremely accommodating. ” They try their best to fulfill non-menu food requests or change the dish to suit their customers’ needs, which is generally “very easy” since “everything is cooked to order. ” Louise told us it does not surprise him that many of their customers come so often, since they have “fifty or sixty different dishes on their menu - not including specials. ” With an emphasis on freshness, they are proud that they source their fish, produce, and meat from well-established New York businesses. Gregg makes their own mozzarella fresh every day, as well as many of their pastas, and Paul & Jimmy's offers their own line of sauces, both in the restaurant and at a few local shops in the city.
Ribalta is all about bringing the customer a complete and genuine pizza experience. From the three separate ovens that produce slightly different crusts, to the flour that is milled in Italy, to their "master instructor" (who comes to us straight from Scuola Italiana Pizzaloll, a pizza school in Italy that was begun in 1988), the people behind this restaurant take their pizza very seriously. When three of us ate here, we shared a thin crust mushroom pizza with truffle oil splashed on top, their soup of the day - carrot and potato - and a rather large salad. We wished that we could have ordered several more pies to sample, but they were large and there was no way any of us could have finished one. What we did have, though, was terrific. And in my spare time, some day, wouldn't it be nice to enroll in their pizza training program? In the fall of 2014, Ribalta made the brilliant decision to bring mixologist Franklin “Stilo” Pimentel on board, and some of us from the Manhattan Sideways team were invited to the unveiling of his new cocktail menu. Ribalta was abuzz when we entered, and we were immediately enticed by what was going on behind the bar. Mixed at lightning speed and served with wide smiles and a laid back attitude, the colorful drinks looked both intriguing and imaginative. A perfect complement to Ribalta's pizzas, the inaugural selection was inspired by classic Italian cinema, with names such as “Il Postino, ” “It Started In Naples, ” and “La Dolce Vita. ” The entire evening evolved around this theme, with black and white Italian movies projected on the walls and a live band to set the mood. The combination of sweet tunes and strong cocktails soon gave way to a full dance floor, and we were thrilled to be there to celebrate the exciting kick-off of Ribalta’s new cocktail program.
Although Eataly is right down the street, Mangia has been upholding its fine reputation for terrific Italian antipasto, pasta salads and sandwiches for over thirty years. For a quick and savory lunch without the crowd, Mangia becomes the perfect dining spot. Since opening their first sandwich shop on 56th street in 1981, Mangia has grown into a catering business that services much of the New York area.
Today, Shareen Mitchell is a bicoastal business owner, a sought-after entrepreneur with fourteen employees and a celebrity following. But no one would have guessed it eleven years ago, when Shareen was, in her own words, “broke, in debt, and selling at a flea market. ” That flea market booth soon grew into a 7, 000 square foot vintage warehouse in LA, and within a few years, Shareen had expanded to New York City. In spite of her success, Shareen’s location on West 17th Street is one of the best-kept secrets in Manhattan. Hidden away on the second floor of an old walk-up, the only sign of its existence is a red dress hanging from the fire escape, and sometimes—like the day I visited—not even that. Fortunately, a friendly employee from the salon next door pointed me in the right direction, but if I had not been in the know, I would have missed Shareen entirely. This secret location may seem like a bad business decision, but it is actually one of the keys to Shareen’s success. Her stores have always fostered a sense of exclusivity, and Shareen told me that her warehouse, especially in the early days, was not only the hottest vintage store in LA, but also a gathering place for a society of hip young women. “It was a crazy, fun secret, ” she told me. “No one knew where they were getting their vintage. ”Because there are no dressing rooms at Shareen—women change out in the open—both store locations have the same “no boys allowed” policy. But the resemblance between Shareen’s two stores ends there. While the LA warehouse is constantly buzzing with youthful energy, the New York location has a quiet, sophisticated feel that caters to a slightly older crowd. The reason for the difference, Shareen explained, is that by 2009, many of her original customers at the LA warehouse were now young professionals living in New York City. “They told me there was nothing like Shareen in the city, ” she said, “so I decided to test the waters. ” She opened a shop in a train station parking lot on Long Island, above an auto shop. “People like Ivanka Trump would get off the train, ” she told me, laughing, “and walk into this auto shop with their dogs and babies and everything. ” But after a while, the trip to Long Island became exhausting, and Shareen decided to open a location in the city. “It was kind of a secret, ” she said. “I had no money for a sign, so I put the red dress out on the fire escape. ”Though she did not put much effort into the store’s exterior, Shareen transformed the inside. The former apartment is now an elegant retail space, filled with ornate mirrors and old-fashioned couches, and yet it still manages to feel warm and welcoming. One large room is devoted entirely to wedding dresses, while another two rooms are filled with vintage clothing of all kinds, from evening gowns to 1950s prom dresses. When I asked Shareen about the bridal section, she told me that the store is in the process of transitioning. “A lot of my clients are starting to get married, ” she told me, “but they don’t want to look like traditional brides. ” These young women, many of whom get married in unorthodox venues—upstate farms, Brooklyn lofts, and Manhattan rooftops—are looking for unique dresses that will express their personalities. Over the past few years, the demand for these “indie wedding dresses” has grown so much that Shareen predicts that the store may soon be entirely bridal. “A year ago, we were half bridal and half vintage, and now it’s more like seventy-thirty, ” Shareen told me. “We’re double-booked on the weekends with brides. ”The New York location may be transitioning into bridal wear, but Shareen insisted that the store will not abandon its vintage roots. Along with her bridal collection, which is all under $2, 000, many of the wedding dresses for sale in the store are reworked vintage. Shareen added that her collection is designed to flatter all kinds of body types, to celebrate women rather than inhibit them. She always tells her brides, “I want to see you looking beautiful, not you in a beautiful dress. ”
The third time was the charm for Mohamed Jamal, who cycled through several business ventures before settling on the perfect one. He first opened a candy store on 17th Street in 1989, which he then transformed into a juice bar, before finally arriving at the space’s current iteration: Rainbow Falafel. Mohamed used the recipes he learned at his grandmother’s knee during his childhood in Syria to create a healthy, Middle Eastern menu. “We stick to all of the old-fashioned, classic foods and never change them, ” Mohamed affirmed, adding that the freshness and preservative-free nature of everything he serves is key to his philosophy. Offerings include the eponymous falafels served in veggie-filled sandwiches and platters, as well as stuffed vine leaves, spanakopita, hummus and other spreads. Impressively, most of the spices and special ingredients are imported, such as tahini from Lebanon, olives from Greece and mango juice from Egypt. To Mohamed, who runs Rainbow Falafel alongside his wife and son, the restaurant’s prosperity is easy to explain — “We are always here and we are always happy. ”
This little urban oasis provides families and individuals acupuncture treatment for a wide range of ailments – infertility, stress, and muscular and skeletal pain. Husband and wife founding team Jill Blakeway and Noah Rubinstein have been a functional medical and media presence in the world of acupuncture for years, publishing a number of books, appearing on Bravo, CBS, The Today Show, and lecturing on the benefits of Chinese medicine.